Mumbai: Unable to meet infrastructural and regulatory commitments required to bid out development of the city’s second airport to a private developer, the Maharashtra government is considering doing at least part of the job itself.

Capacity crunch: Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. The airport is expected to reach its peak capacity of 40 million passengers by 2013. Photo: HT

A senior state government official said the airport project has secured all necessary approvals except from the forest department and the Bombay high court to commence work on the Navi Mumbai airport. This person, who did not want to be identified, said the state government is examining every option including City and Industrial Development Corp. of Maharashtra Ltd, or Cidco itself investing in and developing the project.

While some experts have warned of the impact further delays in developing the airport could have on Mumbai’s economy, others question the location of the airport, the ability of Cidco to execute the project if that’s the route the state government decides to take, and the environmental cost.

Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport is expected to reach its peak capacity of 40 million passengers a year by 2013. The bidding process for the Navi Mumbai international airport was scheduled to start by August and the airport was expected to open in 2014. The cost of the Navi Mumbai airport project, initially estimated at 9,000 crore, has since risen to 14,000 crore.

Navi Mumbai airport, designed to decongest the current airport, got an in-principle approval from the government in 2007. It took four years for the environment ministry to clear the project.

Cidco, the nodal agency for the Navi Mumbai airport project, says the new airport will cater to 10 million passengers a year in its initial phase (end-2014), 25 million by 2020, 45 million by 2025, and 60 million by 2030.

Hormuz P. Mama, one of India’s best known aviation writers, said the current airport is already saturated and cannot take more traffic.

“Unfortunately, Cidco has no experience in building an airport and it has to bring in a private player. The cost of airport is going to be substantially high as the day passes," Mama said.

A second state government official who did not want to be identified claimed the only thing holding up the process of bidding out the project was an approval from a steering committee, headed by the Union civil aviation secretary.

But land acquisition apart, the state government can’t go ahead, said Debi Goenka, an environmental activist and managing trustee of the Conservation Act Trust.

“It is yet to get approval from the forest department as three sites fall under the Coastal Regulatory Zone. At least 250 acres of the land for the proposed airport falls under the reserve forest area," added Goenka.

“The high court has not given authority to Cidco to destruct mangroves," he said.

Even if the state government manages to address all issues, the new airport will still be sub-optimal, according to Mama.

“The biggest single problem at Panvel is the lack of land on that 1,140 hectare site. While its two 4,500m long runways will be spaced to permit simultaneous, independent operations, the airport’s ultimate capacity may be only about 50 million passengers a year. Thus, it could be saturated in about 25 years of operation," he wrote in a report published by the Observer Research Foundation. In contrast, most big cities around India such as Hong Kong, Dubai, Singapore, Beijing, Seoul and Bangkok have modern airports with a capacity to handle about 100 million passengers a year, Mama wrote.

“India’s poor infrastructure is costing the country dear. Interestingly, much of the international traffic into and out of India passes through the hub airports at Dubai and Singapore. Dubai’s two airports will have an ultimate capacity of about 200 million passengers. The message is clear: India must plan big to become a major player in this field."

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